Layers   2514.03.18*  
Written By: Angie Cousins
Fatima tacks stock of the situation she finds herself in.
Posted: 12/14/14    

She still shook even an hour after the events, her breathing coming in shallow puffs that moved the yellow fabric of her veil against her lips in distracting quickness. Nonetheless, as she stood in the poorly lit space that would be her new quarters, Fatima felt safer than she had in many weeks. While it did not reassure to have her first serious attempt at job-hunting interrupted by a fire-fight, the fact that she emerged still free and alive counted as points in the ship's favor. On the other hand, if what she managed to catch through the haze of her initial panic was right, Darius had a bone to pick with her new captain.


A shiver ran through her, harder than even the remaining shakes, and she wrapped her arms around her torso and closed her eyes. A few deliberate, slow breaths combated the impending attack. She squeezed herself harder. Even she recognized the name, one of the more vicious crime barons surrounding Deadwood. That was not good. The inclusion of him hardly made for a quiet future. Certainly the threat posed by Darius was not part of her half-formed plan of escape. But what could one do? Here she was on the Jin Dui and here she would remain until at least Persephone.

Persephone itself felt like an entirely different problem but that would be managed when they arrived. Until then, she had weeks to prove herself which she fully intended to manage. Captain Cooper did not seem to be the kind of woman likely to cast idle threats. If she said she meant to use the ensuing trip as an impromptu job interview, then, by Allah, Fatima believed her. In a way, though, this certainty felt like relief. There would be no quick temper shifts or questions with double meanings. When Captain Cooper said to jump to it, the only question would be where on the ship was the job to be done.

Fatima let her grip loosen around her torso and nodded to herself firmly. Yes, it would be that simple and clear. No one on the ship knew her; all of the people who could possibly bring violence were safely dead and hidden away somewhere in the cargo bay. She felt certain of that. Even if she did not know the others… Well, in a sinking boat, everyone had to bail the same way as the saying went. Then, at Persephone, the captain would evaluate all of their bailing skills.

She, for one, planned to stay aboard. A running deer was far harder to corner than one penned.

Manner calmed by the self-talk, Fatima once more looked around the dingy room, cluttered with the debris of a life poorly lived and with only the vaguest sense of hygiene. Her nose wrinkled. The smell lay over everything like a nearly visible film and she calculated that it would take hours to elevate the disaster into something as mundane as a simple mess. However, it had to be done or else she would be left without a place to sleep. She could not very well expect any rest in the galley and she knew her first shift at the controls would be nerve-wracking enough without attempting it on little to no sleep.

Resolution set, Fatima turned on her heel and slipped from the room to find the promised cleaning supplies. It took a few moments but, by luck, Halo had emerged from his room and she had only to follow him on silent feet to where Sully had already located the storage locker and the all-important contents. If her seemingly sudden appearance at his back when he turned startled him, he had enough control to squash it and she noted that, while his eyes widened, his hands did not go towards any kind of offensive gesture and he still smiled warmly. The instantaneous tension that had crawled up her shoulders when he turned to see her dissipated at this reaction and, hidden by her veil, she very nearly smiled. All she knew he would see, however, was a tiny woman swathed in yards of yellow fabric who bowed her head and drew back a step at his attention. This was all well and good. What she wanted was a job and safety and some level of comfort. Co-workers were a result of such desires; friends were beyond thought.

All of the pieces of her which held the capability of caring had been jettisoned endless days ago aboard a heartless, soulless pirate ship, anyway.

She gritted her teeth against the sudden swell of thoughts and memories but resisted wrapping her arms around her own torso again. Silently, she waited until Halo had finished gathering his supplies and left to return to his cabin and its undoubtable mess. She thought he might have said something or perhaps even a few things to her but the effort to keep herself upright and still took so much energy and bandwidth that she completely missed his words. Part of her felt immediate guilt at the rudeness but the rest of her… Well, feeling things was a bit of a luxury, wasn’t it?

Quickly, she scooped up heavy duty plastic bags, various bottles of disinfectant, a tattered broom, and some relatively clean looking rags. Just before she left the closet behind, though, she paused and snatched a handful of latex gloves from a box pinned up near the door. More or less satisfied with her choice of tools, Fatima slipped back down the gangway after the two men. When Sully handed her another bottle of vinegar spray, she ducked her head and murmured a “thank you.” He might have heard it but she did not linger to make sure, retreating into her new quarters. Her foot found a magazine somewhere beneath the filth and slid almost completely out from beneath her before she managed to right herself. All of her cleaning supplies, however, fell from her grip in the process to land atop the already existing piles. She sighed heavily.

Then she looked back over her shoulder towards the heavy door. I should shut that, she thought. It is protection and privacy and I have control of that door, of this room. Her fingers absently moved to tangle in the fabric of her burka. Closing the door would also allow her to disrobe and perform her cleaning duties with more ease and efficiency.

On the other hand, it would close her in with the filth and stench.

Fatima hesitated for a handful of moments. Finally, she shook her head, decision made. She would close the door. She could always tie her veil over the lower half of her face, covering her nose and mouth while she worked. The reassuring safety of eight inches of hard, thick steel between her and everyone else outweighed the issue of any sensory discomfort. Smells were just smells. She could survive those.

“What does not kill you,” she murmured beneath her breath.

With a delicate motion performed by the tip of her sneaker, she pushed aside the magazine that had made her nearly fall and settled her feet more firmly on the floor. She also tried not to think about what else was on the floor; she would find out soon enough in the process of cleaning. Then she turned and shut the door firmly behind her. The clang felt final and satisfying. Just for an extra step, though, she also pushed the handle down hard and locked it. Hopefully, the state of the room did not translate to disrepair on the door. The thought of being trapped occurred to her and momentarily stole her breath before returning it as near hyperventilation.

Closing her eyes, Fatima exerted every ounce of her will upon her respiratory system until she got it back beneath her control. Her lips moved in silent, wordless prayer. She felt her heart rate return to normal in the next minute and she exhaled hard enough to shift the fabric of her veil.

“No more of that. You have a job to do.”

Her own voice rang strangely in her ears, soft as it was, and she briefly imagined echoes within it, containing the beloved tones of her husband and her co-wife and the children. Oh, the children.

Another shudder rocked her slim frame but she recovered more swiftly this time and, with as much firmness as she could summon, Fatima turned back to face the tragic mess of a room that would be her home for the foreseeable future. A room that was her own. A room no one else (always excepting the Captain, of course) could enter without her permission. A room that would shelter and protect her.

Taking a deep breath, Fatima Nahas began to peel away the layers of yellow fabric enveloping her body. Every layer left her feeling more and more vulnerable, a misuse of the original purpose of her burka but something her tired soul could not apologize for with any honesty. Nonetheless, she handled the garment with care, not allowing a single inch to brush the filthy floor when she took the final step to hang it on the crooked hook bolted to the back of the door. It was the least she could do and offered at least some of the respect she felt for her native religion and traditions.

Perhaps some day she could regard it properly again, embrace it for the modest and peaceful devotion it once represented… And no longer see it as armor against a cold, cruel world.